Types of Trauma
When you think, trauma, I bet you picture the emergency room in a hospital. Head injuries, blood, stuff like that. While that is definitely trauma, it’s not the only trauma dealt with in the therapy world. Generally speaking, mental health people speak of two types of trauma. One is, “big T” trauma, and the other is “little t” trauma. “Little t” is also known as “complex” trauma.
“Big T” Trauma
“Big T” trauma is one major event that can be recalled or that someone can tell you about. For instance, experiencing 911 in NYC or a severe physical injury. Being stuck in an elevator or a burning building. Likewise, you may have watched someone get killed. Even having major surgery can be traumatic. Additionally, experiencing a life-threatening event like being robbed or being in a natural disaster. Ultimately, any type of dramatic one-time event.
“Little t”, or Complex Trauma
On the other hand, “Little t”, or complex trauma is different. It is the experience of prolonged emotionally and/or physically distressful events. They are usually of an interpersonal nature. For example; sexual, physical or emotional abuse, or war, and community violence. Additionally, they happen early in life. In most instances, they occur within a child’s caregiving system.
Why is it Called “Little t”?
The reason it is called “little t” trauma is because the events are generally not of the dramatic quality of “big T” trauma. They can be extreme, as in the case of obvious prolonged child abuse. However, they are generally the everyday events like:
- getting yelled at
- lied to
- having your emotional needs minimized
- being ignored
- or any of the other “normal” experiences of childhood
Consequently, these habitual experiences often stunt, delay or prevent proper development of the social engagement part of your nervous system.
We are Social Animals
Unfortunately, like all mammals, you are a social animal. Therefore, you need the social engagement part of your nervous system to be up and running.
Or else you are always going to be in fight or flight mode.
And if that’s the case, you are going to have difficulty relaxing. Also, letting yourself get emotionally close to people for very long will be difficult. If you are even able to get close at all. In fight or flight, you are going to overreact to things. As you can imagine, insomnia or difficulty falling asleep easily or sleeping well will be a problem. Because you are in this mode, danger is motivating you. Hence, you are going to have difficulty concentrating. Very little, if anything, is going to make you genuinely happy. Ultimately, chronic fight or flight taxes your immune system. Thus, making you susceptible to illness and injury. Furthermore, a positive self-image and high self-confidence will be almost impossible to maintain. And you are probably going to have difficulty managing your feelings.
How Complex Trauma Can Be Affecting You
Complex trauma is no joke. Prolonged or chronic emotional distress is rampant in our society. The fact is, you are probably suffering from it at some level. Children are no exception. They need to be seen, safe, soothed and secure, in order for their social engagement system to develop and function properly. When they get this, they are happy, easygoing, successful adults who can engage in committed and stable relationships. Sadly, our standard socialization process these days mostly produces “little t” trauma and a faulty social engagement system.
However, you may not be experiencing intrusive thoughts or images like someone with “big T” trauma.
But if you are suffering from any of the following symptoms, there is a huge chance your body is in chronic fight or flight mode.
Chronic fight or flight symptoms include:
- Smoking habitually
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
Generally, constant fight or flight comes from chronic low-grade emotional distress left over from childhood. This means your body is under assault from stress hormones and that your muscles are contracted in defense. As a result, you are not living your life to the fullest, and your social engagement system needs some TLC.
Want to live life to the fullest? Call me. We’ll talk.